Neighbors Reluctant to Act in High-Crime Areas, Study Finds

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Photo of crime scene mural by Tom Hilton via Flickr

The level of citizen willingness to intervene in local public safety problems such as street drug dealing is related to the crime rate in the area, says criminologist David Weisburd of George Mason University, who conducts research on crime “hot spots.”

Preliminary results of an ongoing study of high-crime areas in Baltimore show that the higher the crime rate is in a “hot spot,” the less likely local residents are to take part in anticrime activities, Weisburd told the annual symposium on evidence-based crime policy on Thursday, sponsored by George Mason’s Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy which Weisburd heads.

More residents are likely to take part in lower-crime neighborhoods, the study is finding.

Part of the study, which is funded by the National Institutes of Health, is to assess the role of “collective efficacy,” a term coined by Harvard sociologist Robert Sampson to measure local participation in crime-fighting.

Researchers have conducted extensive interviews with residents of 449 “street segments” in Baltimore, ranging from those that have been identified as “hot spots” to those where the crime rate is low.

Researchers told the symposium of other ongoing studies in the Baltimore project.

Residents of the city’s high-crime areas have significantly more health problems than do those who live in low-crime districts, said Clair White of the University of Wyoming and Beidi Dong of George Mason. This includes not only physical ailments like asthma and arthritis but also mental illnesses, such as depression.

What is not yet clear is whether there is any causal relationship involved, particularly whether serious crime problems exacerbate health issues.

The researchers advocated more involvement of the city’s police department in dealing with crime “hot spots,” but so far law enforcement officials have not engaged in discussion with academics about findings of the study, Weisburd said.

With homicides on the rise again in Baltimore, Police Commissioner Michael Harrison has announced a new strategy that will require officers to spend more time in 120 “micro-zones” where there have been high rates of violence over the past five years.

Also at the symposium, the George Mason center honored six police officials, an academic and a criminal justice official.

Winning distinguished achievement awards in evidence-based crime policy were Michael Green, executive deputy commissioner of New York State’s Division of Criminal Justice Services and criminologist Lorraine Mazerolle of the University of Queensland in Australia.

Inducted into the Evidence-based Policing Hall of Fame were Chief Howard Hall and Assistant Chief James Chapman of the Roanoke County, Va., Police Department, Capt. Kenneth Clary of the Iowa State Patrol, Chief Andrew Fletcher of the South Simcoe Police Service in Ontario, Canada, Lt. Jason Potts of the Vallejo, Ca., Police Department, and retired senior public safety analyst Karin Schmerler of the Chula Vista, Ca., Police Department.

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